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June 2, 2009 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Max Gimblett

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Max Gimblett once told a journalist that he was a beagle in a previous life. Whether or not he was joking, the point remains that this type of comment is not completely unexpected from the artist. It is impossible to speak of Gimblett without referencing his variety of spiritual beliefs, specifically his adherence to Jungian concepts. Unsurprisingly, his works are extremely reminiscent of the abstract expressionism, especially the artworks of Pollock and de Kooning.

Eccentricism is, of course, something that modern viewers and critics alike associate with great artists, and Gimblett is undoubtedly one of New Zealand’s most successful contemporary artists. He has lived in New York since 1972, already has a monograph written on his works and is one of the few New Zealand artists who have exhibited their works in the Guggenheim museum.

Despite a colourful personality and a remarkable artistic career, don’t expect anything grandiose at his current exhibition at the Page Blakie gallery. Much like the art of the expressionists, the structure of Gimblett’s art consists of simplified geometric shapes. The most novel shapes he uses are the oval, circles and of course, the quatrefoil, which is made of of four circles overlapping each other at the centre. It is this shape that has become the characteristic calling card of Gimblett’s work, and is repeated at least fifteen times in this exhibition.

On these structures are a variety of stylistic paint applications, from monochromatic palettes to jarring juxtapositions of colour, from flat surfaces produced using paint rollers to calligraphic lines of paint. The effects can at times achieve a hypnotic surface quality. In some works, Gimblett has diluted resin into the paint to create a sensuous sheen, much like porcelain or varnish. In other artworks, however, the aesthetic effect is less successful. Although critics have stated that Gimblett uses gold in a way that “is neither tawdry nor purely about visual pleasure”, an entire canvas covered in gold, such as Mirror of Beauty, cannot help but emit a slightly tacky quality (Yau).

Whether these works successfully refer to something beyond their frames is an issue that has similarly plagued expressionist art, where the seeming simplicity of the artworks is seen by some as precluding any deeper meaning than simple surface aesthetics. Most critics, however, see the simplicity of Gimblett’s work as the very essence of their spirituality. The focus on the shapes of his artworks allow the viewer to explore their iconographical status. The quatrefoil shape is immediately recognisable as the shape of a flower, and also has a history in both Western and Eastern religions as symbolising not only a flower, but also a window or a cross. Similarly, the materials used also have religious associations, as precious pigments such as gold and silver often convey qualities deemed important across cultures.

Overall, the viewer’s first impression of this exhibition is undoubtedly grounded in the aesthetic qualities of the work, with the effects varying from sublime to kitsch. Whether or not you can read a spiritual meaning in the works, as the personality of Gimblett would suggest, is a completely subjective experience.

Max Gimlett’s work is currently showing at 19 May-20 June at the Page Blackie Gallery.

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